Nice Manners, Babe! A Love Letter to John Hughes and 'Sixteen Candles' in Honor of its 30th Anniversary
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Nice Manners, Babe! A Love Letter to John Hughes and 'Sixteen Candles' in Honor of its 30th Anniversary

By Courtney Enlow | Think Pieces | May 2, 2014 | Comments ()


Sixteen Candles was released on May 4, 1984. The directorial debut of John Hughes, the film follows, among an array of memorable and delightfully weird characters, Samantha Baker, a high school sophomore on the day of her 16th birthday.

It is, without a doubt, my very favorite movie of all time.

No matter how old we get, no matter how many movies or TV shows depict it, the idea that high school is hard for everyone, even the popular kids, remains a revolutionary concept. Our past challenges always feel strangely exclusive, and we can get possessive of that; emboldened by our challenges, we become owners of the loneliness. But, if we’re lucky, we find our own weird families to be weird with us. Sometimes those families aren’t living, breathing people, but characters with dual citizenships in both the screen and our souls. I have felt closer to TV and film characters than I ever have to most people—and I know I’m not alone in this.

Sixteen Candles was one of the first movies to ever make me feel that way — to make me feel like I wasn’t alone, that other people felt awkward and strange and ignored and ridiculous, too. That I wasn’t wrong for feeling that way, that it didn’t mean I was broken. If Samantha Baker felt that way, and so did Jake Ryan and even perfect Caroline, I was probably pretty OK.

John Hughes crafted an entire career out of reminding the lonely that we weren’t alone. That there existed people just like us, even if those people sprouted from his mind and fingertips. That high school, that life in general, can be complete nonsense. And it’s sad and scary and weird and wonderful. That’s what he did. That’s what he did for me. For all of us. He rescued high school. He rescued me.

In 2010, in one of my very first (and only) Pajiba reviews, during one of our (desperately missed) theme weeks, I wrote about Sixteen Candles as my very favorite movie of the ’80s (an understatement to be sure).

One thing the great teen comedies have in common is weirdness. There is always a great deal of absurdity happening amidst the plot. And that’s just as real as anything else. High school is weird. There is something intrinsically odd about a large brick building full of hormones, confusion, change and a very large teen-to-adult ratio. Sixteen Candles, for as weird as it gets, never feels wrong. It never feels disingenuous. Whereas every other film in the genre takes reality just one step beyond, the truly bizarre moments (the boy’s bathroom sophomore-panties summit, Long Duk Dong in general) feel real.

And that was the genius of John Hughes. He knew high school was strange and sad and furious and ridiculous and mortifying and sometimes wonderful. He hit on every aspect that makes this particular point in our lives such a prevalent topic for writers, and he did it better than anyone. And he did it hilariously.

I love The Breakfast Club, but apples to apples, Sixteen Candles feels so much more real. High school was hard, but it was almost hysterically so. We’re never more over the top than that four year period during which we’re trying to figure out exactly who the hell we are. Sure, you cry about it. But, later, perhaps much much later, you laugh about it.

Thank you, John Hughes, Samantha, Farmer Ted, Jake and everyone else. You made us laugh. You made us feel less alone. For that, you’ll always be special.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • rio

    I loved this movie growing up, LOVED IT. The first time I moved to the stated I was so exited I finally lived somewhere where they got if I was quoting the movie! But this movie does have a lot of problematic aspects. First of all Dong's character is basically the 80s equivalent of Mickey Rooney's character in Breakfast at Tiffany's and for someone who made a movie that avoided the usual stereotypes on teenager to finally give them a voice that felt real, relaying on superficial cultural stereotypes does diminish the final product. Now though, even worse, the movie has a straight up date rape in it. Two guys conspire to get a drunk out of her mind girl to sleep with one of them thinking she's sleeping with the other. That shit is terrible. Now can I love the part of the movie that are so earnest and amazing? Yeah but I have to be aware that the time the movie was made had an influence on the story and that I can distance myself from that without being blind to those issues.

  • IN FAIRNESS. Their plan was for Ted to drive Caroline home, not have sex with her. They weren't conspiring for him to sleep together.

  • Al Borland's Beard

    I just saw it for the first time a few months ago. I was pretty surprised at how rapey the main love interest is. "I can get a piece of ass anytime I want. Shit, I've got Caroline in the bedroom right now, passed out cold. I could violate her ten different ways if I wanted to." That's the guy everyone wanted to be with?

  • All I can think of when this movie comes up now is how hard Gedde Watanabe hit on me when I met him back in 1993 and how I should've slept with him just so I could say I did it with the Donger.

  • Ricky, Bubbles & Julian

    Real smooth, cliff

  • $99571230

    Hooray, Courtney!

    I was 16 when this movie came out and I never, ever related to a movie character as much as I related to Molly Ringwald's. The school dance scene was real: the "cool nerds" hanging out in the bleachers wondering why they were there. The "uncool nerds" acting (and looking) like they haven't quite left middle school.

    The reaction of Ringwald's Samantha when Jake says hi to her the first time was something I could absolutely relate to.

    The sister and the house party were funny bonuses. But the best part of this movie was the sheer, sweet awkwardness of being a 15-16 year old girl.

    I'll take 16 Candles over The Breakfast Club any day.

  • Stephen Nein

    The lurching veers from honesty to douchery to machismo to something real & respectable, captures the same male awkwardness in in Jake & Ted.

    I was (does math) 12, and male, and nerdy, so there wasn't no reality there, no sir . .

  • Rebecca Hachmyer
  • Meli_V

    I agree very much with your sentiments Courtney.

    "That's why they call them crushes. If they were easy, they'd call them something else."

  • Mrs. Julien

    "I can remember lots of things."

    I think that every time asks me "Can you remember to..."

  • MisterMJ

    Probably one of the least-liked movies for Asian-Americans who were kids/teens during that time but what the hey.

  • Danar the Barbarian

    FYI, my husband likes this movie - He is Korean and named Dong. And yes, "No more yanky my wanky, Donger needs food" is a real thing in my house.

  • Al Borland's Beard

    So, your husband is representative of all Koreans, or just ones that are named Dong?

  • Danar the Barbarian

    Merely an anecdote. However, his older brother is also named Dong, and he loves the movie too.

  • The LEGEND Laney Boggs

    Cool. You brought today's PC stuff in to kill the fun of a great 80's movie. Remember on the porch when ted said (Im paraphrasing) "Stop being faggots. We have 70 dollars and a pair of girls underwear. We're safe as kittens." Nowadays if that line was in a movie there would be protests and faux outrage around the globe.

  • rio

    I think you can appreciate a movie keeping in mind that that same movie has aspects that are profoundly problematic, movies reflect the era they were made on. MisterMJ has all the freaking rights in the world to be offended by the movie, who the heck are you to tell him he doesn't?

  • Andrew

    And Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany's is hilarious, amirite?

  • John G.

    Yeah, man. Stop having your own experience of a movie when white people are busy telling you it doesn't matter. Expressing your own experience is totally "PC" man. And of course the non-white opinion of racist characters is just "faux outrage", because the real opinion of everything is the white opinion.

  • L.O.V.E.

    So no more yanky my wanky, then?

    I don't know. My Vietnamese friends thought it was funny, but there's no accounting for the humor of young boys when it comes to Donger references.

    Its very much "of the time", I suppose.

  • anikitty

    You feel not lonely? I feel f'in old.

  • malechai

    I was 14 when this movie came out. That was... 30 years ago. My god. That can't be right. Let me do the math again...

  • Three_nineteen

    You saw it in the theater as a teenager also? I'd high-five you but I'm afraid one of my osteoarthritic bones would break.

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